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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Hyundai Kona N officially the new Golf GTI killer

Korean marque's first ever SUV is unruly and an absolute riot.

When it was launched in 2017, the Hyundai Kona polarised opinions unlike any previous model from the Korean marque.

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Bearing all the hallmarks of what many had claimed would be Hyundai’s E65 BMW 7 Series, never mind the unfortunate meaning of its name in Portuguese, the Kona sported a radical, split headlight design deemed ugly and too ‘out there’ for a Hyundai.

It was, however, a brave step from Hyundai and as with the equally panned first generation Nissan Juke, the Kona has become anything bar the brand’s E65 or Edsel.

Since its debut in 2021, close on 1.2-million examples have changed hands. Not bad for a supposed niche vehicle.

Performance significance runs deeper

As much as it paved the way out for conservative Hyundai, a lot has changed since its debut five years ago. And following its first mid-life update in 2020, a secondary facet to the Kona’s repertoire has emerged; performance.

It comes as little surprise then when Hyundai confirmed last year that it’s most perception changing model had been selected as the base for its first ever performance crossover/SUV.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Hyundai’s Kona N brings the heat, but is it really a Golf GTI killer?

And by performance, it meant no expenses spared. In other words, performance starting and finishing with N. Suffice to say then that the uproar it originally caused has been amplified exponentially by the Kona N.

The second N model to be offered on South African soil after the i30 N, the Kona N’s arrival for the customary seven-day stay also came with a big question mark: can it garner the distinction of an SUV capable of outperforming the Volkswagen Golf 8 GTI? On first glance, it is off to a good start.

The looks of N

Potentially the most menacing N-car ever made, the Kona N ushers-in the same aesthetic enhancements as its sibling, but with added substance in the form of a gloss black honeycomb grille, gloss black mirror caps and air vents, a red accented lip spoiler and red N brake calipers.

Hyundai Kona N road test South Africa
Even at the rear, the Kona N is anything but subtle.

Sitting 10 mm closer to the ground than the regular Kona, Hyundai has gone a step further by adding red detailing to the base of the doors and around the rear diffuser, while teaming the latter with a pair of massive exhaust outlets.

Hyundai Kona N road test South Africa
Gloss black 19-inch wheels and red brake calipers a clue to the Kona N’s potential.

Signing the N off is a double deck spoiler rear integrated into the roof, gloss black 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli PZero tyres, and a choice of seven colours, including the simply stunning Performance Blue only N-cars are privy to.

Interior hits and misses

Compared to its obnoxious and loud exterior, the Kona N’s interior appears less enticing and dark, with little fanfare.

This is before attention is drawn to the heated N sport seats, the new 10.25-inch analogue-aping digital instrument cluster, the stubby N gear lever and the N sport steering wheel, resplendent with a red NGS button – more about this later.

Despite lack of brightwork, the fit-and-finish is top notch with little in the way of inherent confusion.

Perched on top of the dashboard, the new 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment, though a massive step-up from the old eight-inch system, takes a few moments to decipher, but thanks to the shortcut buttons underneath, it soon becomes plain sailing.

Hyundai Kona N road test South Africa
Compared to the outside, the interior is bit dark and nowhere near as flamboyant.

An impressive standout is the eight-speaker Krell sound system, but less so the Head-Up Display, whose readouts are still projected on a flimsy looking piece of plastic and glass.

In fact, neither this nor the smallish boot rate as the biggest hindrances of the interior. That is reserved for the lack of rear headroom thanks the standard panoramic sunroof. More sufficient, but only just, is rear legroom.


Frankly, however, the rear pews are unlikely to be the place where many would want to be. Simply put, the Kona N is less Dr Jekyll and a lot more Mr Hyde on the move.

Its split personality is immediately evident as it, to a fair degree, remains docile but far from inconspicuous when trundling around.

Poke it just a bit though, even in Comfort mode, it reacts by going into psychopath mode.

Hyundai Kona N road test South Africa
N seats are trimmed and leather are offer incredible support, in addition to being heated.

Aside from the slightest hint of turbo-lag, the reaction from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is immediate, with such a strong pull that you have to grip the steering wheel, as the slightest bump results in not only torque steer, but intervention of the traction control.

Bury the accelerator further, the pull becomes brutal, the soundtrack more metallic, and the eagerness to want more prevalent.

Push one of the N “paddles” on the steering wheel to Sport mode, and everything changes again. The steering becomes heavier, the changes from the new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox faster and the power delivery intoxicatingly savage.

The big N

Want more? Pushing the second paddle while still in Sport puts the Kona N in Sport N mode, which, apart from readying the launch control, acts as catalyst for the use of the mentioned NGS button.

Denoting what Hyundai calls N Grin Shift, the system effectively acts as an overboost that unleashes the full 206kW/392Nm in one shot for 20 seconds. The result is a sensation one is unable to describe in uncensored language.

Relentless and probably capable of reducing your spine to jelly, the acceleration was such that the Kona N, with Road Test Editor Mark Jones behind the wheel, exactly matched Hyundai’s claimed 0-100 km/h figure of 5.5 seconds at Gerotek.

With that, it officially betters not only the 6.5 seconds set by the pre-facelift, manual i30 N, but beats the time set by the Golf GTI by just over 0.3 seconds.

Hyundai Kona N road test South Africa
The N Grin Shift button does its name justice.

As incredible as its performance is, another surprise was the ride. While unsurprisingly on the firm side, imperfections, in Dr Jekyll guise, were dealt with very well.

In fact, it only became brittle and uncomfortable when the road started to appear more minefield than tar. Just as commendable was the fuel consumption, which recorded an indicated best of 8.6 L/100 km, though this increased to 9.5 L/100 km after Gerotek.

There is, however, a worrying aspect to the Kona N, namely the brakes which, even before Gerotek, felt under-boosted and not as sharp as required. The steering, meanwhile, has a distinct electric to feel it and at low speeds, inspires anything but confidence.

While largely slick, the transmission still sports a typical dual-clutch dragging sensation, annoyingly only at low speeds or creeping. For the rest, it responds immediately regardless of being in Drive or in manual.


The question of the Hyundai Kona N being perhaps a bit too powerful and unruly for its own good cropped-up a few times over the 645 km it spent in our care.

Hyundai Kona N road test South Africa
Badge sets the Kona N apart from the N Line.

Arguably though, it is an aspect many are unlikely to question. Put simply, it represents another crazy moment in the automotive world; a car that goes against its original purpose with the sole aim of being memorable and not adhering to the norm.

It is an unashamedly one-finger salute to sensibility where thrills, excitement, and yes, lots of grins, matter.

At R749 900, the Kona N is anything but cheap, but in the context of what it is and its achievements, you could be tempted to call it a performance bargain.

Kona N Data

Model: Hyundai Kona N

Gearbox: 8-speed dual-clutch

Engine: 2.0-litre Turbocharged

Power: 206 kW @ 5 500 – 6 000 rpm

Torque: 392 Nm @ 2 000 – 4 700 rpm

Licensing Mass: 1 510 kg

Power to Weight: 138 kW / Tonne

Power to Capacity: 104 kW / Litre

0-100 km/h: 5.53 seconds

1/4 Mile (402.34 m): 13.83 seconds @ 166.99 km/h

1/2 Mile (804.68 m): 21.66 seconds @ 200.09 km/h

1 Km (1 000 m): 25.08 seconds @ 209.98 km/h

60-100 km/h: 2.74 seconds (in Drive Sport)

80-120 km/h: 3.45 seconds (in Drive Sport)

100- 200 km/h: 16.19 seconds (in Drive Sport)

Claimed Top Speed: 240 km/h

Fuel Consumption: 8.9 L/100 km Claimed (9.5-litres Test Average)

Fuel Tank Size: 50 litres

Fuel Range: 562 km Claimed (526 km on Test)

CO2 Emissions: 194 g/km

Vehicle Odometer: 4 871 Km

Test Temperature: 6 Degrees

Tyres Size: 235/40 R19

Tyres Make: Pirelli PZero

Warranty: 5-year/150 000 Km

Service Plan: 5-year/75 000 Km

Priced From: R749 900

Test Date: 9 June 2022

For more information and latest pricing visit www.hyundai.co.za

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